State of Asia 2020: The Indian Imperative
An End-of-year Conversation With Dr. Shashi Tharoor
Dr. Shashi Tharoor joined Asia Society Switzerland for a "State of Asia" end-of-year conversation on how Asia has changed this year and what challenges await the region in 2021. The third edition of State of Asia provides a perspective on the world from India – a country that may play a crucial role in an emerging world order.
Our key takeaways
The pandemic may have inaugurated an era of deglobalization, which will have long-term consequences for all of us, according to Dr. Shashi Tharoor. Countries have begun talking about resetting global supply chains, raising trade barriers, and looking at possibilities for more self-reliance. These more recent developments have gained a momentum this year, after at least two decades of integrating global supply chains.
Dr. Shashi sees the current distribution of agency within the international system, such as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make free choices, as inadequate. With reference to his book The New World Disorder, co-authored with Samir Saran, he highlights that there are still vast inequalities within and between countries despite some progress globalization has brought in reducing inequalities.
Two major developments this year show the waning legacy of international organizations. Dr. Shashi, firstly, highlights the pandemic and the initial response by the WHO, which added to the perception that many of our international organizations are dominated by certain countries, manipulations, lack of representations, etc.. Secondly, Sashi mentions the national sovereignty crisis, with many countries putting themselves first, in other words a rise of many versions of what President Donald Trump calls America first.
To Dr. Shashi it is important to reaffirm the great importance of international organizations, e.g. to have a strengthened WHO. The current global system is not fit to follow and implement shared interests. More diversity, respect and collaboration is needed instead of countries breaking up into hostile and competing blocks. Shashi says that India would be uniquely positioned to reshape the global order. It could step forward to bridge the gap, in terms of presenting an alternative governance model for African and Asian countries. In the past India has been very successful in managing diversity, multi-ethnicity, etc. and leading important developments, such as outer and cyber security. Under the current government, however, India has lost a bit of its credibility.
With regard to China’s mounting global and regional dominance, Dr. Shashi talks about the possibility of a constraining approach (instead of the US initiated containment strategy which did not find a lot of support). This means in other words that countries should engage, trade and be friendly with China, but limit China’s influence by leveraging cooperation among other countries. Asia’s Quad – the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is still at an initial stage, but could possibly result in more intense relationships among these countries as a counterweight to China. Talking in more detail about the Sino-India border conflict, Dr. Shashi confirms that India-China relations are not good at the moment, and that it is difficult to get the relationship back to normal.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a third-term Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, is the bestselling author of twenty one books, both fiction and non-fiction, besides being a former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and a former Minister of State for Human Resource Development and for External Affairs in the Government of India. He has won numerous awards, including the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Crossword Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2019, Dr. Tharoor was also awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in the category of ‘English Non-Fiction’ for his book An Era of Darkness. He chairs Parliament’s Standing Committee on Information Technology.